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|Exclusive interview with Matt Stone, the author
of the upcoming photo-book McQueen's Machines.
Featuring a Foreword by Chad McQueen. Due out November 2007.
Matt Stone is the executive editor of both MotorTrend and|
MotorTrend Classic magazines and has recently authored a
photo-book (featuring 200 photographs) about the many cars
and bikes driven by Steve McQueen, both on-screen and off.
In this exclusive interview Matt talks to McQueenOnline about
the great time he had researching the book, and what we can
expect to find between the covers of McQueen's Machines.
MO: What was your initial inspiration for writing McQueen's Machines?|
MS: Like so many of us, I grew up on Steve McQueen. I’ve been a car nut from birth, and was just 10 years old when Bullitt came out. My dad took me to see it, and of course the impossibly cool McQueen – and that now iconic chase scene – made an instant impression. Nothing could have topped that, at least until I saw Le Mans. Those howling 917s and Ferrari 512s… Thus, the “McQueen and cars” connection was made for me early on. Fast forward to 2000, when publishing magnate, the late Robert E. Petersen, purchased the McQueen XK-SS. As Executive Editor of Motor Trend magazine, I wanted to do an article on the car. After driving this famous Jag on Mulholland Drive, past Steve McQueen’s house in the Hollywood Hills, the idea started to incubate. By the time I did a piece on McQueen’s Ferrari Lusso, I knew I had to do this project. Another aspect of the idea is how disappointed I am at some of the reality TV shows that portray some B-level actor or athlete as a serious car guy because he installs a set of 24-inch wheels and some big stereo speakers on his truck. Steve McQueen was a serious, committed racer, bike rider, and car collector. I felt it was worth showing people what a real Hollywood car guy was all about.
MO: How many cars and bikes are featured in the book?
MS: We feature the eight or so cars he was most associated with in great detail; several pages each. Another dozen or so rate smaller mention. Others still, just parenthetical mention, including pieces we just couldn’t find, or didn’t have photos for. Bikes, perhaps a few dozen, again in varying levels of detail. Plus we cover 7 films that had cars or bikes in them as foundational or major plot elements. There’s an entire chapter on his racing career, with another half dozen cars involved. It was harder with the bikes, as he ultimately owned more than 200 in his life, and so many came and went with no records of serial numbers or any such documentation.
MO: I understand that you located many of the cars, drove them, and shot new photographs of them for the book. How would you rate the condition of the cars that you tracked down - I imagine there was a bit of variation in how well they had been maintained and also perhaps modified over time?
MS: Most of the cars are in great shape. Chad owns two of his father’s Porsches, the 1958 Porsche Speedster 1600 Super, which was Steve’s first new car, and the car he first went SCCA racing in; and a 1969 Porsche 911S that he bought new and has been in the family ever since. Both are in outstanding condition. The XKSS is in super shape. The Ferrari Lusso was restored and shown at Pebble Beach a few years ago. The Mini hasn’t run in decades and is tired, but completely original, including every modification McQueen made to it. We have a mixture of new and archival photographs, which show then and now. I don’t believe anyone other than Steve himself has driven as many of his cars as I have now – and let me say it’s an awesome honor, and a bit of responsibility as well.
MO: Were any of the car's current owners unaware of the vehicles famous ancestry?
MS: Every owner I came across knew what they had, so I didn’t surprise any of them. I did, however, have to break the bad news to a few who thought or claimed to have a McQueen machine, but in reality didn’t.
MO: What depth will the book go into? For instance I understand that Steve owned armored vehicles and a Range Rover - will these sort of unusual and less glamorous vehicles also be covered?
MS: Yes, they are there, to the extent we could find information and/or photos.
MO: You must have done an enormous amount of research to cover all these vehicles...
MS: Absolutely, but it was the proverbial labor of love. It was like an archeological dig; one bone leads to another. But everyone I dealt with was so helpful, so willing to share his or her cars, photos or memories. Most McQueen books or articles mention that he did some racing or had a Porsche or liked cars or rode motorcycles, but none of these volumes have 200 photos of them. There’s no tabloid trash here. It’s just about the hardware. The photos came from all manner of sources, and several have never been published before. Neile Adams McQueen and Barbara Minty McQueen were also generous with their family photo albums. I cannot thank these women enough for pictures and memories about a guy who can still make either of them cry. Naturally, I read a bunch of old material, watched movies, and talked to many folks who were involved.
MO: It is widely held that Steve's favorite car was the Jag XKSS - would you say that this was true, and (if so) why he favored the Jag?
MS: The SS was one of his favorites, for sure. He bought it, drove it, sold it, and bought it back. I believe he liked it because it was fast, rare, and something special, even back then. He changed the color from eggshell white to British Racing Green, as he liked his cars in darker and/or subtle colors.
MO: Did you unearth any new information on the mysterious remaining Bullitt Mustang?
MS: Not really. The Bullitt Mustang guys watch this aspect of McQueen’s legend like hawks. To my knowledge, it is still owned by the folks who’ve had it for some time. It is in a barn in the South, locked away, in semi-decrepit but complete and original condition. They say they plan to give it a mechanical and minor cosmetic restoration, but are afraid to do so because they don’t want to be hounded. I can’t think of a more valuable Mustang in the world. By the way, Ford will unveil a 2008 Bullitt-edition Mustang at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.
MO: Do you have any advance info on the 2008 Bullitt Mustang?
MS: Ford hasn’t released any info at all, although I’ve seen a shadowy sketch. I believe it will be offered in Highland Green Metallic only (the ’01 was also offered in dark blue and black) and I think it uses a V-6 model grille with no fog lights (to more closely resemble the ’68 movie car). I heard a rumor that 4000 will be built.
MO: Steve loved to collect and restore Indian motorcycles - what do you think it was that drew him to that particular make of bike?
MS: Motorcycle expert and journalist Marc Cook helped me with this chapter, and while it was clear that he loved Indians, we could never determine for a fact why. He owned several of them, rode them a lot, and there were many Indian parts bikes in the estate sale that was held after he passed away. Part of it was that he liked to own things that were different; anyone who has studied Steve McQueen knows he seldom ran with the pack. So if everyone else rode Harleys, he road Indians. When others raced Hondas or Yamahas, he raced Triumphs. I think it was part of his make-up.
MO: I guess you talked to a lot of Steve's old racing friends and competitors in researching his racing days...?
MS: Some, yes. I particularly enjoyed interviewing the legendary Bud Ekins, who was his friend, motorcycle muse, racing teammate, and stunt double. An amazing man, and a story worthy of its own book. It was good chatting with Sir Stirling Moss as well, who was his teammate at Sebring in 1962, a bit of a racing mentor, and also a friend. The two became good mates.
MO: Did Steve do any more competitive racing after he made Le Mans - or is the general concensus that he stopped racing at that time true?
MS: The filming of Le Mans soured him on motorsport. His marriage was coming apart, the production drained his production company, and even first wife Neile admitted he was never quite the same after that. To my knowledge, the "Sebring 12-hour race" in March, 1970 was his last major competition endeavor, as the producers did not let him race in the "24 Hours of Le Mans" that year. Soon after, he began collecting vintage bikes, and bought old cars more for their appeal, design, or history than for their speed. He sold off the Sebring Porsche 908 (which was used as a camera car during the Le Mans race) and the Solar-owned #20 Porsche 917. He continued to do some dirt bike racing, but that was about it. In a strange way, it’s too bad he was such a successful actor, because due to his hectic schedule during the 1960s and early 70s, he was never able to apply himself to racing with any consistency. We’ll never really know how good he could have become, but he certainly had the talent to at least make a career as a journeyman sports car and endurance racing driver had that been the path he had chose.
MO: Chad McQueen has been involved in a Motor Trend article in the past, so I guess it seemed natural to ask him to write the Foreword to the book?
MS: No doubt. I could not, and would not, have done this project without his approval and support. He and I first started talking about it when I did a piece on the Lusso. He said “That looks like something dad would have. He just had the greatest taste in cars.” It was probably the final occurrence that made something click in my head, confirming that “McQueen as car and bike guy and racer” was the subject of a book that just had to be done.
MO: Was he (Chad) involved in helping you with the book's research to any degree?
MS: In more ways than I could have hoped for. Writing the Foreword was only a piece of it. He opened doors, provided names, checked facts, contributed photos, told stories, read copy, made corrections -- the whole bit. He’s become my friend through this process, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for his contributions. Even though I’m listed as the author and wrote down the words, I often call it “our book” as he was such a huge part of it. I only wish we had more pages...
MO: I've heard a rumor that the cream of the crop of Steve's vehicles are still in Chad's collection. Any truth to that, and if so what machines does Chad still have?
MS: The two Porsches I mentioned earlier, which are certainly among the most significant of his father’s cars, plus a handful of motorcycles and a few old trucks. Most of the rest of what McQueen owned are in private hands, with many having been sold and resold over time. McQueen’s motorcycle muse, Bud Ekins, for example, picked out a few choice pieces at Steve’s insistence, prior to his passing. The largest collection of McQueen cars and bikes is at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. They have the XK-SS, the Von Dutch-built Winton Flyer Replica from The Reivers, the blue Rolls coupe he drove in The Thomas Crown Affair, his wonderfully original Hudson Wasp two-door, and the current owner of his ’57 Chevy Bel Air also stores that car there. (Learn more at www.Petersen.org.)
MO: What was the most unexpected find you made while researching this book?
MS: A lot of folks have mistakenly identified the Porsche 911S that Chad owns as the car used in the opening sequences of Le Mans. Even Chad wasn’t sure. The truth is that Chad’s car is a ’69, and the movie car is a ’70. It’s an easy mistake to make, as both cars are the same model and color, and just a year apart. The interesting thing, however, is that Solar Productions purchased the ‘70 for use in the film, and for McQueen to drive while in Europe. So, he actually owned both cars. The current owner of the Le Mans movie car has the original invoice and several letters from Porsche identifying it as having been delivered to McQueen in France just prior to filming. There is also documentation as to when it was shipped to America, and subsequently sold. McQueen bought the ‘69S new and it has lived its entire life in Southern California. He willed it to Terry upon his passing, and when she died, it went to Chad. So, we’ve cleared that up. I’ve seen, photographed, and driven both (I’m a 911 owner, so this was a real treat!) and they are just mouth-watering machines.
MO: The funniest McQueen motoring story?
MS: Oh that’s easy. McQueen was driving his Mini Cooper S home one night, through the Hollywood Hills. He needed to relieve himself. It's dark, so he just pulled to the side of the road, parked, and jumped out. Unfortunately, he neither set the parking brake nor engaged first gear. In the middle of his nature call, he watched as the Mini rolled by. I’ll let you read the rest of the story in the book…
One more thing, if I may mention. The McQueen family and I agreed that a portion of the book’s royalty proceeds will be donated directly from the publisher to the Boys Republic in Chino, California. McQueen lived and schooled there as a teenager, and made many appearances there later in his life. The family is still very much involved with this worthy institution, and anyone who buys a copy of this book is helping out an outfit that does a lot of good, and meant a bunch to Steve McQueen.
MO: It's been great talking to you Matt.
MS: Thanks for listening, and for your interest in McQueen’s Machines.
McQueen's Machines can be pre-ordered at: